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October 3, 2020

Navigating Private School Tours: The 2020 Version

By Tampa Bay Parenting

The pandemic has changed our world in so many ways, but one thing that has stayed the same is the need to ensure our children have access to a good education. For some families, that choice is a private education.

School policies regarding tours and interviews vary, so we turned to two Tampa Bay experts for pointers to help guide you in your search: Karen Vaughan of Corbett Preparatory School of IDS in Tampa and Rachel Martin Barrett of Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg.


Karen Vaughan of Corbett Preparatory School of IDS

BEFORE THE TOUR

  1. Do your homework. Research the school website to find easy answers to general questions surrounding bus service, tuition, lunch, school hours, dress code, athletics, calendar, parent involvement, after-school activities, back-to-school health and safety protocols and procedures, accreditations, affiliations and admissions process.
  2. Check out the school’s Facebook page to get a feel for the school’s approach to teaching and learning, its culture and community. Then make a list of the deeper questions that are important to you to ask and look for on your tour.

ON THE TOUR: TOPICS TO CONSIDER 

  1. Look around the campus and classrooms and listen in. Are students engaged and happy? Ask how teachers are trained to keep kids engaged. Are the classrooms and campus bright, clean, safe, and secure? Are there outside spaces that have room for kids to spread out and move freely?
  2. Ask about class size and how it affects instruction, learning and the teacher-student connection. Is the teacher able to differentiate instruction for students? If so, what does that look like? How will my child feel valued and encouraged for their unique qualities and gifts?
  3. Talk with a teacher if you can or be sure to ask the admissions director to share information about teacher certifications, faculty training and expectations for ongoing professional development.
  4. Consider the academic curriculum. Does the school use a traditional singular program of study or does it offer a combination of approaches? Does the curriculum include teaching kids to consider global perspectives? Is there a social-emotional learning component to the curriculum?
  5. Evaluate the availability, variety and quality of the enrichment/specials classes such as art, music, drama, dance, technology, foreign language and PE. Are they a part of all students’ daily schedules? Is there free play/recess time scheduled as a regular part of their day?
  6. Ask about the culture of the community. Does the school embrace diversity as reflected in its student body, families and faculty, as well as curriculum? Is there a shared schoolwide philosophy as to how teachers speak to and interact with students or is it up to the individual teachers?

Finally, notice the energy you feel on your tour and pay attention to that intangible “gut feeling” as to whether you can see the school as a place your child will be happy and successful.


Rachel Martin Barrett of Shorecrest Preparatory School

  1. If the school offers any type of virtual tour, be sure to take a look before you arrive so that you can get a feel for the school and prepare questions ahead of time. Your questions may be answered during your in-person tour, but they may not.
  2. Arrive for your on-campus tour with a mask and be prepared to attest to your health (that you are not showing any signs of COVID). Arrive five minutes early to complete this paperwork.
  3. For the on-campus tour, you may not be able to enter classrooms. Be sure to look inside and observe how the students are learning. Is the classroom calm? Are the students attentive? Are the students smiling under their masks? You can tell a lot about a school how by the teachers and students are interacting and their demeanor in the classroom. During this time, pay extra attention to these details, especially as facial expressions are not as noticeable with masks on.
  4. Since Shorecrest’s curriculum is primarily project-based learning, notice how the students are interacting with one another. How big are the groups? How close are students sitting? Ask about the guidelines that are being followed to prevent COVID Does the school have a plan for closing if that becomes necessary? If the school has a COVID planning document, ask for a link or copy.
  5. Ask to talk with current parents! To connect with current Shorecrest parents, go to https://shorecrestparents.org/#/

*Photo provided by Corbett Preparatory School of IDS

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